JERUSALEM, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Israel on Wednesday exhibited signs that it has put at least one of its feet on a path leading to the end of its contentious military operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Israel's National Security Cabinet met on Wednesday morning for discussions on whether to expand the ongoing offensive or opt for a truce. Should the former be approved, Israel would possibly send tens of thousands of reserve soldiers into Gaza to bash the Islamist movement.
Following hours of debate, the ministers voted to continue the current operation, reported local news service Ynet. No word was given on whether the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would reinforce its presence in the Palestinian enclave, although it has reportedly been prepared for such an extensive deployment.
Meanwhile, the IDF said unless under attack, it would hold fire in the Gaza Strip for three hours every day starting Wednesday to allow local residents to receive basic supplies. The respite, from1 p.m.(1100 GMT) to 4 p.m.(1400 GMT), would be subject to daily security assessment, added the army.
Hamas, the target of the so-called Operation Cast Lead which was launched on Dec. 27, has said it would also refrain from firing rockets against the Jewish state during the three hours.
The daily temporary lull is part of a "humanitarian corridor" plan Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office announced earlier in the day. "This would entail opening geographic areas for certain periods of time during which the population would be able to equip itself and receive the assistance," said the office in a statement.
Gaza residents would also use the periods to repair the damaged infrastructure, which UN officials said was on the brink of breaking, as shortages of power and running water have been widely reported in Gaza.
The measure indicated that although denying a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the Jewish state is bowing to international pressure that has been mounting up over the desperate situation of some 1.5 million people in the devastated coastal strip.
UN and Palestinian officials have said the impoverished and overcrowded land is already bracing for a worsening humanitarian crisis due to shortages of food, fuel and medicine.
In another sign of a softening stance, Israel agreed on Wednesday to conduct dialogues with Egypt over its proposal for a Gaza ceasefire. "Israel views as positive the dialogue between Egyptian and Israeli officials in order to advance these issues," said Olmert's office.
While stressing that Israel has not yet accepted the initiative, Israel announced that Amos Gilad, chief of the Diplomatic-Security Bureau of the Defense Ministry, will fly to Cairo on Thursday to discuss the proposal.
The Jewish state was seen most overtly inching toward a ceasefire in a day that the White House, which backed Israel's Gaza operation, said there is an urgent need to reach a durable truce agreement to end the bloodshed, while insisting that Hamas must first stop firing rockets at Israel.
Although Israeli officials have said Hamas has sustained significant damage, Gazan militants on Wednesday continued to pummel southern Israel with rockets, a situation Israel vowed to end by this operation. Yet notably, the frequency of such attacks are declining.
Over 700 have been killed and some 3,000 others wounded in Gaza during the 12-day-old onslaught, and the death toll is certain to rise further. On the Israeli side, 10 have been killed so far, including six soldiers fallen in the battlefield.